Minor Temples – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Minor Temples – Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Neak Pean: When constructed, this small island temple was built in the center of the last reservoir to be constructed by a Khmer king at Angkor Wat. The temple sat at the center of a cross (or lotus) pattern created by eight pools. The name “neak pean” means “coiled serpent,” referring to the nagas that encircle the temple. Look for the horse statue – it’s Balaha, saving drowning sailors. NOTE: It’s best to see this temple during the rainy season when the reservoir is more likely to have water in it.

Phimeanakas: The legend surrounding this temple – the tallest scale-able ruin in Angkor Thom – is as interesting as its architecture. An ancient myth said that in the tower on top of the temple lived a genie in the form of a nine-headed serpent, which was the lord of the entire kingdom. Every night the genie would appear in the shape of a woman, and the king would have to sleep with her. The King’s wives couldn’t complain since it was his duty to appease (and please) the spirit. Should the genie fail to appear for a single night, legend had it that it was a sign the king’s death was at hand. If the king ever failed to appear for the tryst, the myth said disaster would be sure to follow. For your trip, climb carefully to the top. If you need steps that are less steep, go to the west staircase, which has a metal railing to give you support.

Phnom Bakheng: If your legs aren’t tired enough from climbing up and down the stairs of other temples, finish of your day by conquering a steep hill (and then even more stairs) for a sensational view of the ancient kingdom at sunset. Hope for good conditions – the dirt and stone steps up the hill get very slippery during rain showers. If hiking is not to your liking (hey, that rhymes!), you can ride an elephant to the base of the temple; look for the stall near the entrance road. From the top you can see Angkor Wat in the distance and even hot air balloons.

Prah Khan: We found interesting caved-in walls and reparations at this temple. One particularly ironic sight was a “do not deface the stone” sign placed right next to a carving where the face had been chipped off. A walkway leads to the entrance; when we were there, an extremely talented band consisting solely of landmine victims (prosthetic limbs and all) was playing traditional Khmer music. If you see them play, don’t forget to buy their CD!

Preah Pithu Group: This group of five lesser-known temples, set across from the Terrace of the Elephants in central Angkor Thom, was one of the highlights of our trip. These temples are free of tourists because they’re isolated from the more popular ruins, so the atmosphere here is much different from Bayon or Angkor Wat. You can get great pictures of green foliage and stone carvings without worrying about a tour group walking in front of your lens. Also, after spending hours avoiding bothersome vendors doing their best (or worst) to hawk their wares, the silence here truly is golden.

Ta Keo: This temple, the first at Angkor Wat to be constructed wholly out of sandstone, was known in its time as “the mountain with golden peaks.” Explore the five levels and peer out between the crumbling pillars. There are great photo opportunities as well as shopping. (While on top we could hear the merchants at the base peddling their wares the way they know best: hollering at the top of their lungs. “Hello, you want something to eat?! You want cold drink?!”)

Terrace of the Elephants: The bas-reliefs of elephants – almost life-size! – are impressive. Take some time at this temple to admire how the elephants seem to be walking out of the wall toward you. Their trunks come right out of the wall on some edges. Also look for the Temple of the Leper King just next door. While the main statues here are not particularly impressive, the intricate carvings on the terrace walls of demons and evil spirits are incredibly preserved.